Hall of Shame Special – James R. Barrett

I recently came across another deserving target for my wrath, a book called The Irish Way: Becoming American In The Multiethnic City by Professor James R Barrett. It includes several pages of Cassidese nonsense like the following: 

“Corruptions of the Irish Gaelic language survived in the memories of old-timers and were refreshed by more recent immigrants. Irish words, phrases, accents and pronunciations seeped into the English of working-class neighbourhoods.”

Why am I angry about this?  Well, in some ways, I shouldn’t get worked up. There are things which are far more important in the world and I should watch my blood pressure and not allow idiocy like this to annoy me, but I just can’t help it. Here we have a career academic who quotes from Cassidy describing him as ‘linguist Daniel Cassidy’  Linguist? Cassidy was not a linguist in the sense of speaking many languages (judging by the book, he could barely speak English and didn’t know any Irish at all) and he certainly wasn’t trained in the theoretical study of language. Presumably this man Barrett read the book or at least looked at it. Didn’t he get suspicious at the lack of methodology, the lack of a bibliography, the fact that nothing is properly referenced? The claim that the name of a fictional character in an Indian poem by Kipling is really derived from Irish didn’t set any alarm bells ringing?

Apparently not, because James Barrett gives a list of words like slugger, dude, square, sucker, stool pigeon, squealer, swell, taro (I think he means faro, the card game, not taro the Japanese sweet potato), racketeer, scam and jazz. Of course, Cassidy claimed that all these words derive from Irish.  Readers of this blog will know that none of these words is really from Irish or Scottish Gaelic. And Barrett would know it too, if he had bothered looking these words up in dictionaries to see what real experts who know what they are talking about have said about them.

I mustn’t get angry … But, really! WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH THESE PEOPLE? This man is a highly qualified academic but apparently he is so lacking in scepticism and common sense that he just buys all of this tosh from Cassidy as if it’s real, without questioning it or investigating it or confirming it, even by surfing on Google for a quarter of an hour. And remember that this book came out in 2012 (and is about to be reprinted – it will be interesting to see if it still contains the same crap about slang). This is too early for cassidyslangscam, but not too early for a lot of other people who credibly and skilfully demonstrated that Cassidy’s book is simply nonsense written by an unqualified con-man. (Actually I should rephrase that: Cassidy was certainly a highly qualified con-man but he was unqualified to carry out any kind of academic work.)

Worse still, Barrett’s book has been reviewed in all kinds of publications and by all kinds of people. As far as I can see, not one of them has picked up on the claims that terms like square and jazz and block come from Irish and questioned their validity. Not one reviewer has taken issue with Barrett using Cassidy’s book as a source, in spite of the fact that it is like someone including theories about aliens building the pyramids in a serious book on Egyptology.  

Is this really what we’ve come to, a situation where the education system is so bad that even highly educated people are completely unable to recognise an insane load of cacamas for what it is?

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